The 31st session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Geneva this week will discuss over 30 texts concerning international food standards for subjects including the use of flavourings and product labelling.
Codex food safety standards and risk analysis principles are developed using scientific advice from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation. The standards are recognised as international benchmarks and help governments establish their own food policies.
The draft guidelines, amendments and codes of practices on the agenda for this year's five-day meeting cover a wide range of categories, such as mycotoxin contamination, the use of flavourings, quantitative ingredient declarations and gluten-free foods. Mycotoxin contamination
Mycotoxins in food are produced by fungal contaminants and can be genotoxic carcinogens. They continue to pose a modern day problem that the food industry must tackle on a daily basis, causing particular concern for bakery firms as they remain stable during processing and, if found in the raw grain, can reoccur in foods containing wheat flour. The EU legal limit for mycotoxins in finished products, such as bread and breakfast cereals, is 500 parts per billion. However, studies have revealed that flour may contain 750ppb.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued a code of practice in 2007 advising UK farmers to avoid intense rotations of crops such as maize and wheat which are prime hosts of the fusarium fungi, a cause of one type of mycotoxin. At last year's Codex meeting, the members adopted a code that would prevent or reduce the mycotoxin Ochratoxin A contamination in wines across the production chain.
This year, the committee will discuss the draft maximum levels for Ochratowin A in raw wheat, barley and rye. Flavourings
The committee will also discuss guidelines for the use of flavourings, amendments to the International Numbering System for Food Additives, and specifications for the Identity and Purity of Food Additives arising from the 68th JECFA (FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) meeting. In Europe, food additives are currently regulated by a dozen or so EU laws, but four new regulations, proposed in 2006 by Europe's law-making body, the European Commission, aim to harmonise authorisation and safety assessment procedures for Europe's internal market.
The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) is currently carrying out safety inspections on 13 flavourings, and is struggling to reach a decision on seven of these. Eventually though, the Commission hopes to establish a list of flavourings that are safe for use. Labelling
The Codex group will also look at labelling issues this week. It will discuss the draft amendment to the guidelines for the Production, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods; the amendment to the guidelines for use of nutrition and health claims; and the standard for quantified labelling of prepackaged foods. This latter was also discussed by the Commission last year, but a decision was not reached. The amendment suggests every food sold as a mixture or combination should disclose the ingoing percentage, by weight or volume, of any ingredient at the time of the manufacture of the food if their omission would mislead the consumer.
Regarding gluten-free foods, the Codex commission will aim to determine an acceptable level and method for detection of gluten to allow better protection for people who are allergic to gluten.